Taoiseach defends new judge amid Micheál Martin criticism

‘Máire Whelan is no Frank Clarke, is no Adrian Hardiman,’ says Fianna Fáil leader

President Michael D Higgins has appointed former attorney general Máire Whelan a judge on the Court of Appeal despite objections from Fianna Fáil. Video: Cyril Byrne

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rejected a claim by Fianna Fáil that he put pressure on President Michael D Higgins to appoint former attorney general Máire Whelan to the bench.

In the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed the Taoiseach had instructed the President on Sunday evening with “indecent haste’’ to appoint Ms Whelan to the Court of Appeal on Monday. He said this was done despite concerns expressed by two Ministers about the process.

Mr Varadkar said he wanted to refute absolutely that he had instructed the President, adding that the arrangements were made by officials.

“There is no question of any pressure being placed on the President to make the appointment on any specific date,’’ he added.

Mr Martin referred to the “squalid appointment’’ of Ms Whelan.

“This was an insider appointment that stinks to high heaven,’’ he added.

Uniquely qualified

Mr Varadkar said Ms Whelan was uniquely qualified for the role. She was a barrister with decades of experience and was attorney general for six years across two governments. He said correct procedures were followed and Ms Whelan was the stand-out candidate for the post.

Mr Varadkar said there were precedents, including the appointment of Frank Clarke to the High Court without going to the judicial board, while Adrian Hardiman and Donal O’Donnell were appointed as barristers to the Supreme Court without the experience of being attorney general.

Mr Martin replied: “With the greatest of respect, Máire Whelan is no Frank Clarke, is no Adrian Hardiman, and is no Donal O’Donnell.”

Mr Varadkar said he had understood Mr Martin’s difficulty was with the process, not the qualifications of the candidate.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, addressing Mr Martin, remarked: “Hear, hear, not you play the woman. It is a disgrace.’’

Replying to Independent TD Catherine Connolly, the Taoiseach acknowledged it was not the best way to appoint judges.

Mr Varadkar said the Judicial Appointments Bill would be introduced in the Dáil next week. Cabinet procedures would also be reviewed, he added.

Pressed further by Mr Martin, the Taoiseach said, like other Cabinet members, he saw the memo relating to Ms Whelan’s appointment on the morning of the Cabinet meeting.

But, he added, he was aware the evening before that it might be a possibility, given that there was a vacancy in the Court of Appeal.

“I did not have any role in putting the memo before the Government,’’ he added.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said “new politics’’ was a fiction and the Taoiseach had no popular mandate.

“I cast no aspersion on the former attorney general,’’ he added. “My issue is with the process or lack thereof.’’